O. Tavares, C. Sin, P. Videira

In Portugal, reform of quality assurance in higher education (Law 38/2007) required institutions to develop an internal quality assurance policy, a culture of quality and quality assurance in their activities and a strategy for continuous quality improvement. The Portuguese Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education was established and, ever since, has been encouraging and supporting institutions to implement internal quality assurance systems. As a result, most higher education institutions have created internal quality assurance systems with different degrees of formalisation (Amaral et al. 2013; Tavares et al. 2016). However, besides the change of the legal framework that institutions had to respond to, other factors may have been determinant in the development of such systems, for example related to the institution’s recognition, competitiveness, innovation capacity, etc. Also, there was an expectation that the development of internal quality assurance systems would involve the participation of all interested parties, both internal and external.

This paper intends to analyse the perceptions of academics and professional management/administration staff about the factors and actors which were determinant in the creation and development of internal quality assurance. The empirical data used in this paper were collected through an online survey, distributed in the academic year 2014/2015 to the entire population of teaching staff and of non-teaching staff working at the level of ‘qualified technician’ (or similar) from both the public and private sectors. The survey returned 1607 answers from teaching staff and 386 answers from non-teaching staff.

The participants were asked to rate on a five-point Likert scale their evaluation of the importance of the following factors for the creation and development of internal quality assurance:
(i) legal requirements and demands from the higher education accreditation agency (A3ES);
(ii) promoting continuous improvement of the institution’s quality;
(iii) establishing a system of sanctions and rewards;
(iv) accountability towards society;
(v) promoting the institution’s competitiveness;
(vi) promoting the institution’s social recognition; and
(vii) promoting a favourable environment for innovation.

Regarding the importance of actors, the options were:
(i) European Union;
(ii) A3ES (National agency for evaluation and accreditation of higher education);
(iii) top leadership (Rectoral Team / Presidency of the Polytechnic);
(iv) middle managers (faculty Deans, School/Department/Course managers);
(v) teaching staff;
(vi) non-teaching staff;
(vii) students;
(viii) external stakeholders.

Findings show that the most important factors for the creation and development of internal quality assurance systems have been the legal requirements and demands from the higher education accreditation agency (A3ES) and the promotion of continuous improvement of the institution’s quality. This suggests that according to the respondent opinions, institutions did not only act out of external impositions but also that they were already concerned with continuous improvement. However, when asked about the importance of the above actors, the A3ES stood out. Within institutions, the importance of actors decreases as we move down the hierarchy, while external stakeholders were deemed to have had little importance.